Can The City Of Great Falls Reduce Spending?

Lat week the Great Falls City Commission passed the City’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget. You can view the budget details here.

This year’s budget included a marginal tax increase for local property owners – $2.25 per month for a $300,000 home.

I’ve received several general questions about how our budget works and so I’d like to briefly address those here.

First, can the City reduce spending? The answer is, yes of course it can.

But the better question is this: Can the City reduce spending and continue to maintain the level of public safety, public services, and public amenities that citizens require and expect? That is the balance that must be struck each and every budget cycle, and I am satisfied that we accomplished that difficult balance this year.

So in light of that, I’ve been asked to define in simple terms the only two ways the City can raise taxes for the general fund.

Permissive Medical Levy

Rising health insurance costs for employees have gone up again this year and if we want to attract and retain quality City employees and professional management positions we have to compete in the job market with other municipalities and private sector employers.

The permissive medical mill levy can be used by a political subdivision, like the City of Great Falls, to pay for increased costs of group health insurance benefits for its employees. This year the budget is raising the levy 1.58%, equaling $317,544, to cover the rising cost of City employee health insurance premiums.

Inflationary Factor

Inflation is a very real problem that impacts every City department – the ever-rising cost of the supplies, materials, equipment, and parts it takes to maintain a quality modern city has been, and will continue to be, a major challenge.

Per Montana Code Annotated the City can only raise property taxes via the inflationary factor by half the average rate of inflation for the previous three years. This fiscal year the factor is 2.8%, allowing the City to raise $562,520 for general fund purposes, which includes police, fire, and courts.

Melania Trump: “…every single politician is a man or a woman with a loving family.”

Editors note: Here is full text of the letter Melania Trump wrote to America the day after her husband, former President Donald Trump, survived an assassination attempt in Butler, Pennsylvania.

Melania Trump
July 14, 2024

I am thinking of you, now, my fellow Americans.

We have always been a unique union. America, the fabric of our gentle nation is tattered, but our courage and common sense must ascend and bring us back together as one.

When I watched that violent bullet strike my husband, Donald, I realized my life, and Barron’s life, were on the brink of devastating change. I am grateful to the brave secret service agents and law enforcement officials who risked their own lives to protect my husband.

To the families of the innocent victims who are now suffering from this heinous act, I humbly offer my sincerest sympathy. Your need to summon your inner strength for such a terrible reason saddens me.

A monster who recognized my husband as an inhuman political machine attempted to ring out Donald’s passion – his laughter, ingenuity, love of music, and inspiration. The core facets of my husband’s life – his human side – were buried below the political machine. Donald, the generous and caring man who I have been with through the best of times and the worst of times.

Let us not forget that differing opinions, policy, and political games are inferior to love. Our personal, structural, and life commitment – until death – is at serious risk. Political concepts are simple when compared to us, human beings.

We are all humans, and fundamentally, instinctively, we want to help one another. American politics are only one vehicle that can uplift our communities. Love, compassion, kindness and empathy are necessities.

And let us remember that when the time comes to look beyond the left and the right, beyond the red and the blue, we all come from families with the passion to fight for a better life together, while we are here, in this earthly realm.

Dawn is here again. Let us reunite. Now.

This morning, ascend above the hate, the vitriol, and the simple-minded ideas that ignite violence. We all want a world where respect is paramount, family is first, and love transcends. We can realize this world again. Each of us must demand to get it back. We must insist that respect fills the cornerstone of our relationships again.

I am thinking of you, my fellow Americans.

The winds of change have arrived. For those of you who cry in support, I thank you. I commend those of you who have reached out beyond the political divide – thank you for remembering that every single politician is a man or a woman with a loving family.

Biden In Trouble, Tester Turns To Vodka, MT SOS And Abortion, And More

Jon Tester told Montana voters in 2023 that Joe Biden was “absolutely 100% with it” – then came the presidential debate in June…and vodka-cran for Senator Tester, from the Daily Caller:

MT Secretary of State Jacobsen claims some CI-128 signatures invalid, from the Missoula Current:

Great Falls indoor recreation center/pool now open to the public, from KRTV:

Great Falls Dems: F-bombs Okay For We, But Not For Thee

Ken Toole, writer and co-founder of the local kooky, far left Democrat wtf406 blog wins “Local Hypocrite of the Year” – hands down.

In his recent rant on wtf406 Toole plops out his phony angst over his 11 year old grandson seeing a “F*** Biden” sign on a pickup truck at an area boat ramp.

Let’s see, “FJB” is objectionable to the guy who helps run “WTF406″. Got it?

An f-bomb sign on a truck at a boat ramp in Montana offends Toole’s delicate sensitivities but a logo and website name that broadcasts out to the the entire internet an acronym that everyone understands as “what the f***” is okay. Yeah, they wink and say the “f” is for “funk”. How clever.

Presumably Toole doesn’t allow his grandson to read his wtf406 blog because the f-bombs there are prolific. Apparently, the bloggers at wtf406 think that cursing on their blog makes them cool and more believable as “activists”. Here are a few examples:

Headline from wtf406 screamer and Cascade County Democratic Central Committee precinct captain, Jasmine Taylor:

And here’s one from Cascade County Democratic Central Committee Chair, Helena Lovick from her 6/24/2024 wtf406 rant:
“It is likely one or two fucking pieces of shit putting up those stickers.”

And a couple of more from Jasmine Taylor just from February, this year:
Some might question if it’s wrong to target Neo-Nazis to limit their access to society’s little pleasures. Short answer- Fuck no.”  – wtf406 2/14/2024

The times, they are a…fucking disappointment mostly...Suddenly, a whole swath of people who never gave a fuck about carbon emissions are out holding hands with Greta Thunberg.” – wtf406 2/11/2024

And another from Dem Chair Lovick:
But the city commission wasn’t done fucking around with these volunteer board members.” – wtf406 10/04/2023

One more from Dem Precinct Chair Jasmine Taylor:
Fuck Elon Musk.” (an FEM from WTF!) – wtf406 10/23/2023

Last but not least, here’s a 10/2022 post on the “Jasmine Taylor For Montana” Facebook page, Toole’s wtf406 partner, the place where she regularly promotes the wtf406 nutty, unhinged, profanity laced tirades:

I could go on, and on…and on, but you get the point. If not, then just go to the wtf406 blog and type in the “f” word in their articles search bar, the one with the little magnifying glass.

And of course there is no age disclaimer for the wtf406 blog site – anyone of any age with access to a computer or smartphone can go to the site to read the garbage thereon, including Toole’s 11-year old grandson.

So spare us your phony sermons on how offensive an “FJB” sign is, Ken.

Great Falls Teen Still Missing, St. Mary Canal Failure, And More

A Great Falls teenager is still missing as the search resumes north of Shelby, from NonStop Local:

Long-awaited ribbon cutting and grand opening for the Scheels Aim High Big Sky indoor aquatics and recreation center coming next week, from KRTV:

Flooding in Babb due to ruptured siphons, from MTPR:

Great Falls Is Not Filled With Bigots

In light of some of the recent chatter around town I thought this would be a good time to offer my own opinion on the character of my hometown.

I grew up in Great Falls in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I raised my own two daughters here and helped to get a couple of my grandkids started right here in the Electric City, so I take strong exception to some of the disparaging, insulting, and divisive comments which have made it into the local news recently about the kind of community this is and people who live here.

Despite what some of the loudest most obnoxious local voices would have you believe, the overwhelming majority of folks in this community are not bigots, homophobes, racists or haters.

I’ve always known the people of Great Falls to be good, kindhearted, give-you-the-shirt-off-their-back kind of folks who couldn’t care less about who you love or the color of your skin.

In Great Falls you will always get a fair shake as long as you’re not a jerk and are willing to work hard and reciprocate that fair treatment with respect and honesty.

Are there jackasses in this town? Sure, just like in any other town. But when someone magnifies the exception and dishonestly and tries to convince others that it’s the rule for their own selfish reasons, we should call it what it is – horse excrement.

So don’t believe the lies, Great Falls. This is a good community filled with good people who believe in the principle of ‘live and let live’, but who also understand that ‘live and let live’ is a two-way street.

Books In Great Falls Public Library Dumpsters

I posted this today on my personal Facebook page regarding a picture making the rounds on social media:

“I’ve had several folks bring this to my attention today. A couple of dumpsters full of books behind a public library is a head scratcher for sure.”I’ve had several folks bring this to my attention today. A couple of dumpsters full of books behind a public library is a head scratcher for sure.

It’s my understanding that the books were donated and the Great Falls Public Library doesn’t have the room or the time to properly place and manage the books.

It’s not a good look for sure and some clarification from the library would be helpful.”

The Great Falls Public Library commented the following response:

“Hi Rick! The Friends of the Library have a wonderful used book sale each May. The volunteers spend hours collecting and organizing donated books for the sale. This year they raised over $14,000 to support the Library and we are so grateful for their efforts. The last days of the sale include 1/2 price sales, $5.00 sack sale and a special after sale day offering as many items as you want for $5.00. The Friends try to work with local non-profits to find good homes for the books that don’t sell but some of the books were not wanted by anyone. The Library did not have room to store the final leftover books so they were disposed of in the most economical way possible.”

GOP Primary Candidate Profiles: HD21, Ed Buttrey

Editors note: All of the local Great Falls/Cascade County legislative and county commission contests in the June 4 primary election are Republican. HD21 candidate James Osterman did not submit a profile to E-City Beat. Here is the profile submitted by incumbent Ed Buttrey, unedited:

Personal Bio:

I am a 4th generation Montanan, born in Helena and raised in Great Falls.  I have a degree in Electrical Engineering, and formerly worked out of State as a weapon’s systems designer.  Thankfully, I was able to return to Montana, where I get to live, work, raise my family and realize the beauty of Montana every day. 

I have served in the Montana State House since 2019, and formerly served in the Montana Senate (2011-2018) where I have held leadership positions in each of my legislative sessions.  I served as a two-term Majority Whip in the Montana Senate and currently serve as the Chairman of the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee as well as a member of the House Rules Committee, the House Health and Human Services Committee and the State Broadband Committee.

I have also served as a member of many community boards, as a Fire Department Captain, Emergency Medical Technician, Search and Rescue Diver, Chairman of the Great Falls International Airport Authority, and as a varsity football coach and radio announcer.  This service is only due to the amazing support of my wife Jessica, daughters Kenzy, Macy, TayLee and mother Joan, all living locally in Great Falls. 

Reasons for Running for Office:

As an advocate for public service, I continually strive to find unique solutions and ways to help the people in our community and HD21.  Becoming a member of the Montana Legislature has been a great honor and has allowed me to learn more about the issues and needs of our State and the people who call it home.  The Legislature has offered a unique opportunity to enact policies in Economic Development, Healthcare, protecting our Military assets and families, and to promote for the well-being of Montana families.  I thoroughly enjoy finding solutions to help people and this is why I have run and continue to run for public office.   

Top Challenges:

In these trying political times, there are a number of challenges faced by our community and State that I hope to address in the upcoming Legislative session.  First of all, we are facing an economic crisis nationwide and statewide where the costs of living (food, fuel, housing, taxes) are providing challenges for everyone.  Through responsible budgeting, regulation relief, and tax reform we can ensure that Montanans are able to keep more of their hard-earned money.  I am working hard with others on a plan to finally implement a property tax system that is affordable, responsible and fair. 

We must also keep State and local government responsible and efficient, getting out of the way of business innovation and success, promoting housing development with regulation relief, and ensuring that we have a healthy and reliable workforce for our businesses.  Government can be part of the solution, and should help when needed, but more importantly should get out of the way to allow for individual responsibility and innovation, and to let our families and businesses succeed. 

Finally, we have critical issues with drug related crime and mental health.  While some may choose to bury their heads in the sand and hope these issues go away, the truth is that these issues are impacting everyone in our Montana communities.  If re-elected, I will continue to work to ensure that resources are available to provide help for those that need it, want it and are willing to do the work.  Everyone deserves a chance to succeed, to be respected and to contribute to the success of our great State. 

GOP Primary Candidate Profiles: HD22, George Nikolakakos

Editors note: All of the local Great Falls/Cascade County legislative and county commission contests in the June 4 primary election are Republican. HD22 candidate James Whitaker did not submit a profile to E-City Beat. Here is the profile submitted by incumbent George Nikolakakos, unedited:

Name: George Nikolakakos
Office Sought: House District 22
Occupation: Businessman, U.S. Air Force (Retired)
Age: 44
Family: Wife (Melissa) Daughters (Story, Reagan, Melody, Abigail)
Education: BA, Excelsior College (U.S. History)
Military Experience: 20 years (Active USAF/Montana Air National Guard)
Organizational affiliations: NeighborWorks Montana (Director) Great Falls Development Alliance (Director) Veterans Treatment Court (Mentor)
Political Experience: Representative, House District 26 (Taxation, Human Services Committee)

It was the honor of my life to serve Montanans over the last legislative session. I’m running for re-election because I believe serving a cause greater than self is central to a well lived life and a healthy society. I was proud to pass seven bills over my first session cutting property taxes for low income seniors, boosting 2A rights and, as well as multiple bills cutting red tape for business. In the legislature I will continue to work hard at finding conservative solutions that address problems for hardworking Montanans.  

Last session was marked by conservative achievements. We met our duty to balance our budget and set the example for fiscal responsibility by bolstering our rainy day/fire funds. We paid down all existing state debt and established smart long-term trusts that will leverage and invest hundreds of millions in infrastructure, roads, firefighting, housing, and more. We shrank government and passed the largest tax relief in state history (over a billion dollars) both via long term income tax reductions as well as income/property tax rebates.

I am especially proud of the 300 million dollars we invested toward mental health infrastructure and the 40 million dollars we invested towards a health insurance trust supporting our teachers. From cutting taxes for military retiree pensions and enhancing service member spousal employment opportunities to investing in additional trades career & technical education space prohibits a full outline of the many legislative victories for Montana.

We still have work to do. Knocking doors in my district I continue to feel the pain inflicted by our broken property tax system. I am grateful to our Governor for appointing a task force of the brightest minds in our state to address the need for meaningful property tax reform. It is the most important responsibility facing our next legislature.  

We must focus on rebuilding our shrinking industrial tax base. A generation ago industry (mining, gas/oil, timber etc.) made up about 50% of our tax base. Today, as Montana has become a “scenery state” that burden has shifted to residential properties that now make up approximately 75% of the tax base. Long term solutions and pushing back against federal over-reach can resurrect our industrial base but in the meanwhile we can move on creative solutions like a homestead exemption (or something similar) for primary residences that would shift tax burden to the more than 1/5 homes in MT that are non-primary residences often owned by out of state folks. We should also boost sources of revenue that capture out of state tourist dollars as well as e-commerce and use them to pay down property taxes while boosting “circuit breaker” programs for those most in need.

Our state is also still running a surplus and we owe it to hardworking taxpayers to return it while also addressing critical mental health needs and the school funding formula.

In the legislature I will never forget that I have taken a step down to serve under people, not over them. I will work tirelessly to be of service to our community and always show up to listen and learn from people. I hope to earn the opportunity to continue serving Great Falls to the best of my ability.